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How a local community in Cardiff stepped in after budget cuts to save gardens

06 Nov 2021 5 minute read
Llwynfedw Gardens in Birchgrove, Cardiff Picture: Alex Seabrook

Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter

A community group in Cardiff stepped in after budget cuts to save the local gardens and bowling green.

Friends of Llwynfedw Gardens in Birchgrove have raised thousands of pounds to renovate a community hall, tennis courts, and basketball courts.

The bowling green and pavilion there were destined for closure following steep budget cuts during the austerity years. But today Llwynfedw Gardens is well used and looking pristine.

Chair of the Friends group Councillor Graham Hinchey said this showed the “power of community” in his Heath and Birchgrove ward, which will soon elect a new councillor.

Voters in the Heath will go to the polls on Thursday, November 11, in a by-election after the independent Cllr Fenella Bowden recently retired. The ward has historically been evenly split between Labour, the Tories, and Cllr Bowden who was previously a Liberal Democrat—so the results could be seen as indicating what might happen in the upcoming local elections next May.

The candidates are: Julie Sangani for Labour; Kathryn Lock for the Liberal Democrats; Peter Hudson for the Conservatives; and Gwennol Haf for Plaid Cymru. The Green party is working in a coalition with Plaid in Cardiff. Propel’s candidate had to stand down at the last minute due to a change in family circumstances.

In the run up to the by-election, Cllr Hinchey said he had “knocked 4,000 doors, twice”, leading to questions about what voters want from councillors.

He said: “What do people want from local politicians? They don’t want us talking about Brexit or national politics, they want to talk about what’s happening in the local community and what affects them. Coming out of the pandemic, one issue is how we can as a community support each other and come together. We need good places for people to come together and support each other.”

Community fundraising

Originally Llwynfedw Gardens was owned by the Bute Estate, before being used as allotments during the second world war. Shortly after the war, the area was turned into a bowling green and tennis courts, with a pavilion built in the 1970s. During austerity, when Westminster massively reduced funding for local councils, Cardiff council cut the budget for several bowling greens across the city.

Shortly after, the Friends of Llwynfedw Gardens group formed and applied for a community asset transfer—of which there are several successful local examples. A community asset transfer is when public bodies, like councils, transfer the running of a property to a charity or community group. This allows communities to keep facilities going which might otherwise be closed down if councils can no longer fund them.

Other examples of community asset transfers include the nearby Maes y Coed Community Centre, the Oaks Garden Nursery on Allensbank Road, and the Phoenix Amateur Boxing Club in Llanrumney.

Since the asset transfer at Llwynfedw Gardens, the pavilion is now used for community events, like children’s birthday parties, family film nights, and nursery groups. The building has been renovated, with a large new conservatory built about two years ago. A defibrillator was also installed, and the games area upgraded.

The Friends group received funding for the refurbishment from sources such as Section 106 money, lottery grants and Welsh Government grants, and community fundraising events. Every year at the end of August, the gardens is home to a “party in the park” with a stage and bands playing, one of the “main community events in the Heath”, Cllr Hinchey said.

He added: “All the work done on the games courts and the building was done by local contractors and companies—the builder lives a street away—and all that has kept the cost down. It would have cost about £1 million to do it up normally. The council hasn’t got £1 million to spend on this, but we’ve done it in a different way.

“What does local mean? If you live out of the area, you don’t see the bins collected, or get to know the local businesses. It has to be somebody who lives in the area. That’s why we picked Julie Sangani—she’s the right age, she’s a working mother, and she’s already a school governor embedded in the community. That’s what local means.

“We need to encourage community leaders to come forward, who want to support local schools and community groups. On the back of a terrible couple of years, we need people to step up to the mark. We should be encouraging that next generation of local politicians to come forward, who care about their community and want to roll up their sleeves.”

Whoever wins the by-election, however, will have to stand again in a few months time, as voters across Cardiff will decide who should run the council, on May 5 next year.

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